Clean Air Villain of the Month

Febuary 2001


(Washington, D.C.) - It was not easy to pick this month's clean air "villain."

Especially if you consider: 1) Texas state officials not only came up with a weak pollution control plan for Houston, but began lobbying Congress to weaken the Clean Air Act; 2) a General Motors executive was quoted in a Reuters story as calling for clean air "rule changes" to permit more sales of dirty diesel passenger vehicles; and 3) EPA Administrator Christie Whitman was working along side polluting industries to oppose Senate efforts to stop a Bush rollback of the clean air law. (President Bush himself reportedly took time off from the Iraq situation to call at least one Senator and lobby him personally in favor of the dirty-air scheme.)

Despite this plethora of potential villains, we have selected Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), the new chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.1 He won the award for distorting the truth in a very narrow Senate victory to promote polluter-backed weakening changes to clean air requirements.

Senator Inhofe is apparently working on an image makeover reminiscent of the legendary "new Nixon," but he showed his stripes this week in leading the charge for the polluters.

As we have noted before, Senator Inhofe is well known for his purple prose when it comes to clean air and its proponents: he once likened former EPA Administrator Carol Browner to Tokyo Rose; he assailed EPA employees as a "Gestapo bureaucracy"; and he even compared environmental protection to what he called "partial birth abortion."2

Since the Republican takeover of the Senate, however, and his accession to the important committee chair, Senator Inhofe has tried to blur that firebrand image. After the EPA rolled out changes to weaken so-called new source review requirements, Inhofe blandly commented that "I look forward to carefully reviewing these regulations and working with the administration and my colleagues in Congress to develop and implement needed reforms."

Yesterday, however, the "old Inhofe" was back. While there were no ethnic slurs, Senator Inhofe pulled few punches as he led opposition to efforts by Senator John Edwards (D-NC), who had sought to block EPA from moving forward with its pro-polluter changes to new source review.

Some observers noted that Senator Inhofe played fast and loose with the facts during the Senate debate. He declared, for example, that his view "was unanimously approved by the National Governors Association." (The previous day, the National Governors Association noted that it had taken no position on the amendments being discussed by the Senate.) Similarly he declared that his position was endorsed by the Environmental Council of States (also inaccurate), by all labor unions (inaccurate) and he insinuated that it was also endorsed by the Clinton Administration (former EPA Administrator Browner has corrected the record on that point).

Perhaps the biggest Inhofe whopper: "It's hard to find anyone who isn't supporting these" Bush Administration changes. We guess he forgot the American Lung Association, every major environmental organization, state and local clean air regulators, and tens of thousands of Americans who raised public objections to these changes. Not to mention 46 United States Senators who didn't fall for his falsehoods.

1 Senator Inhofe is a repeat winner. He was named "villain of the month" in April 2001 with Senator John Breaux (D-LA) for urging Vice President Cheney to block EPA enforcement of new source review.

2 See the Clean Air Trust compilation "Quotations from Chairman Jim" at